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Dysgraphia – Still a relevant challenge in our digital age?

Dysgraphia – Still a relevant challenge in our digital age?

In simple terms, dysgraphia can be defined as a writing impairment. The first thought that usually comes to mind is very messy handwriting in a ruffled-paged schoolbook. When we consider the workspace, digitalisation has ruled out the need for handwriting in many areas. Several schools in recent years have made the shift towards paperless learning. Lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures resulted in a boom in the online learning space. Since handwriting no longer seems like an essential learning skill, the question is: is developmental dysgraphia still a relevant learning challenge in our digital age?

Dysgraphia is considered as a diagnosis when, despite exposure to adequate instruction, a learner’s writing does not correlate with his/ her age and intellectual ability.  Typically, there is a discrepancy between oral and written expression. Characterising difficulties occur in terms of motor, spatial and linguistic components of writing, such as poor eye-hand coordination, letter formation, legibility, letter spacing, writing rate, grammar, spelling and sentence composition.  

Writing is a rather complex process relying on cognitive skills such as verbal working memory and organisation, as well as motor planning, control, and visual-spatial abilities.

Symptoms indicating dysgraphia in different age groups include: 

  • Pre-school children:  Awkward pencil grip or body position when writing, avoidance of writing and drawing tasks.
  • Junior school children: Letters poorly formed, inversed, reversed, and unevenly spaced. Handwriting is illegible and children experience difficulty in word-finding, poor spelling, grammar, and sentence construction.
  • High school learners and students: Difficulty expressing thoughts and ideas in writing, and difficulties with syntax and written grammar persist.

According to the DSM-V, developmental dysgraphia is classified as a special learning disorder, having a neurobiological basis. Dysgraphia may occur in isolation but are also a common comorbidity in children with other learning disorders (such as dyslexia & dyscalculia) as well as children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), development coordination disorder (DCD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and cerebral palsy.

In our South African context, a diagnosis is made by a psychologist or medical doctor considering input from different team members such as educators and occupational therapists. Isolated dysgraphia is easily overlooked  and the diagnosis of dysgraphia more often accompanies diagnosis or learning impairments for which medical or psychological advice was initially sought. 

Intervention can be strategised by relevant team members (educators, parents, occupational therapist, etc.) from the following frameworks: 

  • Accommodation / compensation: The use of assistive devices and classroom strategies.
  • Modification: The school adapts student’s goals and objectives and offers support to reduce the effect of the disability.
  • Remediation: Detailed assessment will guide the intervention approach to follow to remediate underlying performance components of the writing task. Early identification and intervention have greater success rates.

It is evident that dysgraphia entails more than messy handwriting.  Despite living in a digital age, the benefits of writing in the learning environment cannot be ignored. Writing provides a multi-sensory experience and helps the brain to remember, organise and store information. High-tech learning environments are unlikely to become a reality in the vast rural parts of our country. Typing can also be compromised by underlying causes of dysgraphia, such as impaired verbal working memory.

Conclusively, dysgraphia is still a relevant challenge to take note of in order to assist affected learners by providing optimal treatment.  

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Article References:

Peter J. Chung, Dilip R. Patel, Iman Nizami (2020): Disorder of written expression and dysgraphia: definition, diagnosis, and management Transl Pediatr. 2020 Feb; 9(Suppl 1): S46–S54. doi: 10.21037/tp.2019.11.01

Understanding Dysgraphia, International.Dyslexia Organization, 

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